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Youngsters VS Oldies : Which is Preferable in Hotel and Restaurant Managerial Positions?

One of the many questions I get asked by hotel owners, operators and general managers is about who should be hired for a managerial position. Should I go with limited experience, young and cheaper but very dynamic and eager, or should I opt for experience, older, more expensive but wise and knowledgeable?

As with many questions, the answer is not initially clear and is dependent on many factors until clarity is reached and a balanced decision made. I read with amusement some of the ‘’wanted’’ ads these days that are looking for experienced professionals who are young and come cheap. It brings to mind the old saying that “If you pay peanuts you get monkeys.”

Yet for every position there is a good answer and candidate, just as every pot has a suitable lid. But as with pots, at least in my kitchen, you need to look for the lid carefully in the pile of lids in the cupboard.

If we carry this comparison further, it is clear that a lid that is too large will not fit the pot and soon will be seen as such. If the lid is small it will be swallowed by the larger pot. You need the lid that is a good fit for the pot, and therefore you need to look for it diligently.

Sometimes this may look like a daunting task but if certain rules are followed you will invariably find the ‘lid’ that fits your operation.

Wise managers will always be on the lookout for future managers within their staff and create an environment where they can be nurtured and prepared for the day that they can be promoted. On their way up the gain invaluable experience of your operation for when they are ready for promotion. They will be familiar with your vision, concepts and budgets, something that an outside candidate will have to learn. Promoting from within is always preferable and will energize your staff and send a clear message that you want to keep staff and reward them for performance.

But what if there is no one suitable from within, and a candidate must be found from outside the hotel ranks?

In this instance, and as I inform those that STAY consults, there must be a criteria list drawn up that will guide the decision on who to hire. Those criteria include the size of your hotel, the department, the facilities and the standard of operations. Once, when considering who to hire to bring order back to a chaotic Spa department that comprised of thirty-three different treatment rooms and over seventy therapists, I chose a candidate that was very strong in administration. He knew virtually nothing about Spas and their operations, but within six months I had the department running like clockwork. Why? Because he was an organizer, and that is what was needed.

So, once the criteria are noted down it is time to decide on what kind of candidate to source for that position. Look carefully at the crew you have on board. Let’s say it is an Executive Chef you are looking to hire. In order to have a properly running kitchen, you need not only to have great tasting food, you need also to keep track of the food costs, and also the HR costs to run the kitchen. What is missing in your kitchen? Are the food costs out of line? What about the payroll, is it in line with budget? Are your menus creative and great tasting? If you have a sous chef that is a good organiser and controller, it is clear that you may need to hire a great cook!

Properly run kitchens, and I have seen quite a few in my career, are those in which the Chef and his crew cover all the bases that are needed to be covered. This means careful procurement to fit both needs and seasonality, correct storage, accurate production and efficient scheduling. I have never seen or come across an executive chef that covers all these points. Based on the results of your findings, you now can go ahead and source your suitable candidate for chef, having decided to go outside your property to find him or her.

Now comes the difference between novices and experienced. While it is clear that a novice may be able to cook great food, does he have the relevant background to cover all your needs, and will he fit in with the team you have? Character plays an important part in the smooth running of any operation, and even more so in the daily operation of a large kitchen. Clearly much can be learned from the candidate’s past, certainly regarding good food. When interviewing for such a critical position, ask probing questions about historical food costs, production, banquet production accuracy, menu rotation, storage and other questions that will satisfy you (or not) about the suitability of the candidate. You will get a feel for his character as you progress the interview and will be able to decide on the way he/she might fit in with your crew.

If the position demands someone of experience to oversee scheduling, costs, hygiene and production, it would be wise to pay more. Though older, the candidate will have knowledge about how to correct the situation and bring it back on even keel. This will probably mean going for experience, or an ‘oldie’. If looking for great food, perhaps a young, very creative candidate might be the best, but bear in mind his inexperience in other matters that may impact both the kitchen and crew. In this case the other members must cover for him in organisational needs. However, this jolt of youthful energy might be just what the doctor ordered!

In many of the instances where I have consulted, the owners and operators display the classic “Penny wise and pound foolish’’ syndrome, despite my advice. They source the cheapest candidate around thinking that they will save on HR costs. They may well do this, but other costs, far outweighing the difference in salary between the cheap and expensive, will skyrocket and the kitchen operation thrown into chaos.

Sadly, I have seen this method of hiring done with everyone from general managers to food and beverage managers and chefs.

Next time you need to hire a manager, don’t be tempted just by the cost of the candidate. Take the time necessary to find out what it is that you really need and let that guide you, and remember this: Often the cheap turns out to be very expensive and the expensive turns out to be cheap!

Happy hunting, but make sure that first shot is accurate!

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